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College Student Looking for good date places in Iowa

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Hey guys and gals,

I'm an Iowa State student, my girlfriend is a Drake University student but we don't eat like your typical broke college student. One of our favorite things do do on "dates" is go out to eat. Since we've been dating, 5 months ago, some of our highlights have included Trostel's Dish (We went on our first date here, on her birthday nonetheless), Bistro Montage (our favorite so far), Bubba Gump Shrimp, El Rodeo in West Des Moines (We got out of there with an appetizer, two a la carte selections, and fried Ice
Cream for $19) lots of trips to Hu-Hot (which we love), and lots of stops at smaller chains (Cheesecake Factory, Boston's, Jimmy Johns), and have enjoyed every minute of it.

My question is three-fold; Where is the best places in Des Moines Ames for a splurge ($80-120 Including Appetizer, Entrees, and two Desserts because we can't drink wine yet being only 20 [although we've agreed to attend lots of local wine tastings when we become legal]) Some of the places I've been thinking about going are Splash (we both love seafood), Sage (I hear its great), Crave (My gf heard bad things about this so I'm anxious to know what you guys think) or some other fondue place though I don't k now of any others in Des Moines, and Ron Beasley's new restaurant Mojo's on 86th.

The second category I'm interested in is are good "I'm hungry let's go get some food" types of places. I fear we too often use Hu-Hot or Jimmy Johns for this and while I like both I'd like to branch out.

Keep in mind that I live in Ames, and she lives near Drake, but we go to the Western Side of Des Moines all the time because she works at Target there and I'm from Adel. Also, It's nice if these places serve food after 9 P.M. because being college students we have weird schedules and not being hungry until 9 P.M. is a regular occurence. I know a lot more about the Des Moines food scene rather than Ames but I'd love to hear more about both. I guess I'm looking for checks in the $25-$60 dollar range for two people, since once again considering we don't have to pay the high cost of alchohol. Some of the places I've considerd are; Star Bar, which is right down the road from Drake, and I hear its really good. However my girlfriend has the idea in mind that she has to dress up before going there which I don't believe is true but I'll let you guys tell me. I've also considered going to Centro although we don't get downtown much, and my girlfriend likes this place called The Cafe in Ames that I think we're going to on Sunday.

Finally a short question; Is there any food worth eating in Ames in the early hours of the morning. I have horrible insomnia and so I go and read a book and eat, a lot of times from midnight to 4 A.M. I go to perkins a lot, and had the worst shrimp ever at a truckstop on Dayton Ave. Perkings is okay and its well lit, but I'm wondering if I'm missin anythings.

We both like all kinds of food, and aren't afraid to new things. I'm especially interested in places that aren't chains, and use fresh local ingredients to keep the prices down. Thanks for taking the time to read all this and I look forward to hearing your ideas. Thanks.

--Mike Hein

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  1. Mike: Try Star Bar. I live in the neighborhood and know the owners. I have been there at all hours and never feel a need to be in anything other than casual, although I admit as the night goes on the dress of the twenty somethings goes a little more upscale. Also, they serve breakfast on Saturday and Sunday which is quite good.

    In the Drake area you are probably missing some things. As an insomniac, try Big Tomato Pizza on Ingersoll. Open till 2 or 3 am you can buy by the slice at those times. Just one small place to sit but the pizza is different from anything in DSM.

    Also, try a couple of places for dates in the East Village. Luccas on East Locust and The Continental a few doors away. Luccas is run by the owners of Basil Prosperi. Centro in downtown should be on your list and they are also renovating a bistro in the Fort Des Moi9nes Hotel which is set to open in October. Knowing the manager you will not go wrong with either place.

    Sorry I can't help with Ames. I was a freshman a ISU years ago until I saw the light and attended Drake. Go Dogs!

    1. Sage and Splash are both good ideas. For a higher end evening, I'd go with Sage.
      Haven't been to Crave, and won't be. My daughter, who's judgement I trust, loves fondue, has been to Crave twice, and will never return. She said it was so bad the first time she had to go back to see if it was possible for a place to truly suck at that level. It was. Service, portions, quality, nothing positive.
      Where is there a Bubba Gumps around here?

      1. I second the Big Tomato pizza recommendation. I went to law school at Drake and their pizza is great. I seem to remember (although it was ten years ago) that they had a really good pizza there with alredo sauce and thinly sliced tomato that was great. They also have pretty good food (pizza in particular) at the bar across the street on Ingersoll. Can't remember the name, but it's pretty big, like an Irish pub type of place.

        1 Reply
        1. re: baloo

          "I seem to remember (although it was ten years ago) that they had a really good pizza there with alredo sauce and thinly sliced tomato that was great."

          That would be the Big Tomato which is alfredo, sliced tomatos and fresh basil leaves. You also might want to try their wheat crust.

        2. For your date night: On the high end, I would recommend Trostel's Greenbriar in Johnston, it's very classic food, white tableclothes and fresh roses, excellent quality. I've never had a particularly bad experience at Splash, but it's never been as good as I hoped it would be, or should be. Waterfront doesn't have the upscale atmosphere, but the seafood is great, and not over-priced. Bistro Montage on Ingersoll is pretty good, not sure if they still do this, but they used to have a good deal at certain hours where you got 3 or 4 courses for like $25 - check their Web site. Crave really isn't good at all, and I've had mixed experiences at Mojo's, though they have awesome desserts if that's your thing. I'm a big fan of Cosi Cucina. Great pastas, and the specials are always really good. It's been awhile, but Aunt Maude's in Ames used to be pretty good for a date.

          Casual nights, Granite City has always been good to me. For a chain, it's actually pretty solid. Great brunch too. I would definitely recommend Star Bar; fairly casual with a good small plates menu. Entrees have been great too. And I concur with the Big Tomato recommendation. You'll really appreciate it when you're 21. You guys should defintely do Winefest next year - the first night tickets are pretty affordable and it's a good time. There's so many appetizers and cheeses that we didn't even have to do dinner. Tasting classes at the Wine Experience are also a must, especially if you're new to wine.

          1. Guys Thanks for all the good ideas. We tried Star Bar the other night and I loved it. Her reactions were mixed she loved the scallops w/ fresh greens, but she said the Niman Ranch burger I steered her towards (she wanted a burger and I figured Niman Ranch would be excellent quality), was too overdone. I tried her burger, and though I don't normally like hamburgers (ironically it's from too many summer friday nights in my childhood w/ overdone burgers grilled by dad), I thought it was great. I think her real problem is she just wasn't that hungry. Oh and we both enjoyed the fries.

            I've heard some good buzz about Lucca's and I I'd to get down to East Village again some time anyway, and I've been dieing to try Centro's brick fire oven pizza. Thanks for the info on Splash, I've been reading good things about Waterfront online. Does anyone know what they're seafood market is like, especially the Lobsters. Oh, I won't try Crave now thanks to you and two other co-workers I've talked to. It's too bad because I don't really know of any other fondue places in Des Moines (oh for a Melting Pot like the one in MN). The last time we made one the one at Hy-Vee was okay but rather lackluster (though the crab legs were good). I also have heard of Big Tomato from my party-hard work friends so I'll check them out sometime.

            Bistro Montage is one of my fav. meals ever (my gf's too), so I'll have to check out that prix fixe menu. I'll give all the other ideas due consideration too so thanks and let me know if you have any other ideas.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mjhein

              I would head to West Glenn and dig into some sushi or stir fry at Wok in Motion. Best sushi in United States as stated by my buddy from Sweeden. Go figure? I am very fond of the many Mexican restaurants in Des Moines. Most serve authentic Mexican food. Ex- "El Rodeo" Not spicey- just simple goodness. Big Tomato is a must on a late Friday or Saturday night. They have a huge assortment of slices to choose from. It never gets old.

            2. Against my best judgement, my husband and I had our "honeymoon" in Des Moines a couple months ago. We went to Sage for our big meal and it was spectactular.

              Two first courses, two entrees, two desserts and lots of wine and drinks came to under $200, which we found to be very reasonable. The food was super tasty. The staff was very knowledgeable of the menu and incredibly friendly. I know it wasn't the best meal I have ever had (Vincent in Minneapolis gets that honor) but it far exceeded our expectations.

              Oh, and the brewery down by the waterfront was really good too, but we are beer people.

              3 Replies
              1. re: churchka

                That brewery probably would have been Racoon River. Great beer, good eats, and a good place to shoot some stick if you are so inclined

                1. re: Devotay

                  Court Avenue Brewery would be closer to the river. Taste being relative, I prefer both the food and beer to Raccoon River.

                2. re: churchka

                  If you are beer people, next time try El Bait Shop for over 150 beers on tap, including Delirium Tremens and my personal favorite, Alpha King.
                  Also the bar above the Royal Mile, the Red Monk, for a large selection of imports. Many Belgians including some Trappist.

                3. Mike, i have a couple of places for you to try in Ames. if you two like The Cafe, i believe the owners of that are also the owners of Aunt Maude's or Lucillan's, both down on Main Street, and both worth a try. There is also The Broiler, out on west Lincoln Way, but i'm not sure it's there anymore. it has typical midwest fare, meat and potatoes, but really good if you're craving a meal that would make grandma proud. The Grove Cafe on Main street has great breakfast (especially pancakes) but i'm not sure how early they are open, but would be good for a saturday morning breakfast. Also on Main, there is the Downtown Deli, which is a sub sandwich place, very good, as well as Great Plains Sauce and Dough Co., which makes pizza by the slice. And, maybe you just didn't mention it, but Hickory Park, on South Duff, is a great BBQ/Burger place that has been around since i was a little kid. Get the cheeseballs appetizer and the Hickory Burger.

                  Enjoy

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: mpollmann

                    Question for Ames folks. A friend recently recommended Cafe Shi. Any thoughts and is it worth the short trip from Des Moines?

                    1. re: DrWine

                      Cafe Shi is small, but the food is definitely some of the best in Ames. I live in Minneapolis but have a sister who goes to Iowa State, so I've been to Cafe Shi about four times. This is a great place, not too big, fantastic food, and best of all, it won't cost you an arm and a leg.

                    2. re: mpollmann

                      It's Aunt Maude's that they also own. Kurt Chausse is the Executive Chef of both. We profiled them in the latest edition of Edible Iowa River Valley (Fall issue).

                      Chausse buys locally from places like Eden Farm and Onion Creek Farms.

                    3. Oh, it was not Raccoon River. We did have one beer there, it was next to our hotel, and it was NASTY. I had the one that tastes like Cream Soda. Beer should not taste like Cream Soda.

                      It was Court Avenue. The beer was good and the food was good. I was very impressed.

                      Actually, I was very impressed with Des Moines in general.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: churchka

                        What a shame. I've enjoyed a number of their beers, and I'm with Bob, it is better than Court Ave. On the other hand I haven't been to Court Ave in a while.

                        You mentioned RR was next to your hotel, so you stayed at the Fort Des Moines, yes? How'd you like it? And did you eat at 43?

                        1. re: Devotay

                          Maybe I worded it poorly, but I meant that I prefer CAB to RR.
                          While neither would rate as outstanding, or even very good most of the time, the dinners I've had at CAB have an edge over RR. The beer is another story. I'm a hophead. CAB makes a hoppier brew than RR, Honest Lawyer IPA, so they win. To me. Taste being relative.

                          1. re: Devotay

                            We did stay at Hotel Fort Des Moines. We really liked it. Their taxi service was the best.

                            The reason we honeymooned in Des Moines was for the Court Ave. 10th year anniversary. My husband helped open the store and the stupid anniversary party was the weekend after our wedding. So we had a couple meals there. For bar food, I was impressed.

                            The only other place we ate (other than Sage) was a vietnamese place. I couldn't tell you the name or where it was. It was decent.

                            We were hoping to stumble across the Des Moines Underground thing. Has anyone done this? I bet it is a great date meal, if you really want to impress.

                            1. re: churchka

                              I'm guessing the Vietnamese place was A Dong (yes, the junior high schoolers think the name is funny too)

                              Awesome pho, some of the best i've ever had.